Scott Spencer 1945–
Spencer is best known for Endless Love (1979), the story of sixteen-year-old David Axelrod's obsessive love for Jade Butterfield. Although young adults may be attracted to the book because of its adolescent protagonist, it is not a "teen romance." Spencer focuses on David's possessive, destructive love and portrays it with an unrelenting intensity that some critics found overwhelming. Others thought that Spencer's powerful writing was instrumental in making his story believable and found it a welcome contrast to what Larry Swindell called "the emotional timidity of most American fiction." Most critics consider Endless Love a serious work of fiction and were generally impressed with Spencer's talent. The book was made into a motion picture.
Spencer's earlier novels, Last Night at the Brain Thieves Ball (1973) and Preservation Hall (1978), also deal with characters whose uncontrollable desires place them at odds with the rest of the world.
For much of the way ["Last Night at the Brain Thieves Ball"] is a clever and witty satire on the kind of electronic snooping and secret manipulation of people's lives that lies behind Watergate. A rather prim and prissy professor of experimental psychology finds himself forcibly recruited into a secret outfit called NESTER (New England Sensory Testing and Engineering Research)…. The madhouse atmosphere inside NESTER and the professor's growing rebellion are conveyed so expertly that when Mr. Spencer comes up with a final farfetched solution to the whole thing, and an explanation that falls pretty flat, the reader is all the more disappointed. (pp. 61-2)
A review of "Last Night at the Brain Thieves Ball," in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 204, No. 4, July 23, 1973, pp. 61-2.
What if there were a clandestine organization that extended market analysis to its ultimate possibilities? Like using real people as guinea pigs?… Scott Spencer fancies that such a scientific purgatory might resemble New England Sensory and Testing Research—NESTOR…. To NESTOR comes a malcontent experimental psychologist, agreeable to living beyond freedom and dignity. Through his reactions to the techniques of what he finally decides is "a claque of satans," the author develops a light-fingered satire of technology. "Last Night at the Brain Thieves Ball" belongs in the same league with Shepherd Mead's "The Big Ball of Wax."
Martin Levin, in a review of "Last Night at the Brain Thieves Ball," in The New York Times Book Review, September 16, 1973, p. 32.
An experimental psychologist answers a two-sentence classified ad in "a weekly magazine of refined opinion." The result is Last Night at the Brain Thieves Ball…. This clever, comic story … is that kind of insightful science fiction that publishers hope won't get pigeonholed and critics pretend is not part of the genre. The obvious comparison for Spencer is Kurt Vonnegut; although their styles differ both writers deftly mix comedy, social comment and science fiction. But read Spencer for himself; within a few years we may be comparing other writers to him.
A review of "Last Night at the Brain Thieves Ball," in Psychology Today, Vol. 7, No. 6, November, 1973, p. 140.
"Preservation Hall," with its deeply personal passion and anguish, is in fact in the province of a first novel, yet it's written with such expert control that one is glad the author waited to tackle its larger theme. Set in New York and in the Maine wilderness, subjecting its characters to the isolating cataclysm of a storm, the novel stings at our age-old fears and makes the pain seem fresh and revelatory. Virgil and Tracy Morgan, successful, likable New Yorkers, have gone to their country property for a winter holiday…. But not until a crisis is visited on the younger Morgans that holiday week through an invasion by another couple … will a catharsis be forced. No longer immune, Virgil will mourn his past insufficiency of feeling and attempt a retribution that will shatter his comfortable life.
A review of "Preservation Hall," in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 210, No. 4, July 26, 1976, p. 68.
Readable and swiftly paced, "Preservation Hall" surmounts some potentially major weaknesses. The obvious plot, for instance: one sees … disaster coming for at least 100 pages, and Virgil and Tracy are so smug and so cute (they name their pond Veronica Lake) that at least one reader could hardly wait. But the strengths of the book are what stay in the mind, and they center around Earl. He emerges as a complex, original figure—a difficult, aloof and oddly formal man whose misfortune is to possess the energy of genius without its gifts. He is that rare person who wants from life at 50 exactly what he wanted at 25, and his persistence lends something heroic even to his monstrous self-pity.
It's a mark of Spencer's skill that although we hear the whole story from Virgil's point of view, ultimately Earl's resentment of his son's success seems less mean-spirited than Virgil's shame at his father's failure. Since the first-person voice in fiction nowadays is all too often the voice of sheer self-justification on the part of the author-as-hero, Spencer deserves a good deal of praise for having the imagination to know more about his characters than they do themselves.
Katha Pollitt, in a review of "Preservation Hall," in The New York Times, January 2, 1977, p. 12.
At first glance, Endless Love seems likely to be a chore for the reader. Its central character is yet another adolescent boy, more or less out of tune with his parents. When we meet him, he's setting fire to his girlfriend's house. In short order he confesses to his crime and enters a posh psychiatric clinic….
But it's soon apparent that David is no ordinary adolescent. He isn't merely passing through a phase; his age is incidental. In fact, he's a full-blown tragic hero. He is obsessed by such a consuming passion for Jade Butterfield, his girlfriend, that it colors and reshapes his life—even destroys it. That so grand an emotion should strike someone too young to handle it does complicate...
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[Endless Love] is like quicksand. Beneath the surface it seethes, inhales and sucks the reader down. Fictional life with Scott Spencer is no relaxation, no refuge from the city or the suburbs. His is an all-encompassing, near-suffocating world that forces involvement and is unwilling to relinquish us to mere daily life. (p. 1)
The boundaries between sanity and madness are blurred in Endless Love…. We do not know if David is insane. His intricate self-analysis lays out every layer of his obsession with Jade. She herself is almost a cypher and seems too matter-of-fact to inspire such devotion. We are not really concerned with her. It is as if we were looking through the lens of a...
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[Scott Spencer] has achieved something quite remarkable in ["Endless Love," an] unabashedly romantic and often harrowing novel. He has created an adolescent love that is believably endless; in fact, we believe that there is no end to which the lover will not go to reach his beloved….
Mr. Spencer carries us along by giving David, who tells the story, a powerful voice—violent, erotic, overwrought, naïve…. David feasts on … reckless passion and on pain: sobs crack like falling trees; lovers, covered with menstrual blood, look like victims of a savage crime. On occasion he lapses into romantic clichés—his love is "more real than time, more real than death, more real, even, than she and...
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There'll be excitement [over Endless Love]. This testament of eloquent anguish—served ironically by a title Barbara Cartland might have discarded—cannot fail to cause a stir among people who take fiction seriously. It may also dazzle its way to commercial success, for its readability and gamier appointments. The important news, though, is that Endless Love is not an oracle of promise, but Spencer's very fulfillment. He has shown just what he can do….
Endless Love is much more courageous [than Spencer's previous novels]. In contrast to the emotional timidity of most American fiction, it is demonstrative past all embarrassment. Indeed, the book's design demands...
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Thomas R. Edwards
In spite of [Samuel] Richardson, Emily Brontë, or [D. H.] Lawrence, you would hardly know from reading most Anglo-American fiction that it's love that makes the world go round. For the Protestant imagination, passionate sexual desire needs to be satirized, sentimentalized, or domesticated, as if it were some severe but exotic disease which, properly isolated, needn't interfere with important concerns like money, politics, manly adventure, or social education. Now, even in a more lenient moral climate, we get lots of sexual performance but not much love. Most of the great love stories are still imports.
Scott Spencer's Endless Love, a serious novel of wholehearted desire, thus seems odd...
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'Style,' Thornton Wilder once wrote, 'is but the faintly contemptible vessel in which the bitter liquid is recommended to the world.' Wilder's paradox, however, has not been heeded by Scott Spencer while writing his saga, Endless Love.
Scott Spencer's writing in this novel is as self-indulgent as his belief that the traumatic teenage love affair described can affect us as pure and untainted. Repeated sexual imagery palls faster than any other and is rarely evocative of selfless tenderness. Of sex, yes. But that, apparently, is not what the novel is about.
Simon Blow, "Quick Eye," in New Statesman, Vol. 99, No. 2560, April 11, 1980, p. 558.∗...
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